Free parking in the Nelson CBD over winter has the go-ahead from the Nelson City Council.
The council met yesterday hearing from retailers and Uniquely Nelson manager Cathy Madigan about how free parking would benefit the city's vibrancy and struggling retail sector.
The council has long faced criticism over its parking strategy and enforcement, which has been fuelled by the "unequal playing field" created by Richmond's free parking.
Retailers and business owners packed the public gallery as Unichem Nelson City Pharmacy co-owner Renata Mijatovic Schrader and managing director of Gibbons Holdings Scott Gibbons appealed to the council for free parking to encourage people back into the city centre.
Mijatovic Schrader said a negative image of Nelson had lingered from its stringent parking system, but free parking would reverse this and give the city centre a boost.
Gibbons criticised the council for punishing car users through its parking system to try to get them using alternative transport less dependent on fossil fuel.
"We are really sorry, but this is off the planet and if be the case then Nelson city is in real trouble," he said.
He also raised the issue of the Tasman District Council not funding the NBus service despite it serving its residents.
"To make matters worse the biggest increase in bus capacity has been on the Nelson to Richmond route so effectively Nelson's retailers are being penalised to fund a bus service that takes its prospective customers to shop in Richmond," Gibbons said.
Mijatovic Schrader, Gibbons and Madigan said free parking would not be a complete fix for the complex challenges facing retailers, but it would help.
Councillor Matt Lawrey put forward the idea of making parking free at Montgomery and Buxton squares and Millers Acre while keeping paid parking on the street.
He said this would encourage people to walk along the streets past shops and result in less revenue loss for the council, but his amendment was shot down by the rest of the council
He was concerned council could get the worst of both worlds with free parking - a loss of revenue, a reluctance from the public to let go of the no-pay system at the end of winter, and no improvements for the retail sector.
Council chief executive Clare Hadley told the council Rotorua had adopted a similar initiative last November.
Rotorua councillor Karen Hunt told the Nelson Mail the city's 19-month free parking trial had been a turning point for revitalising Rotorua with retailers much happier.
"It has been a huge success," she said. "It take did some re-education of shop staff to not park outside their own businesses or other people's in the street."
She said Rotorua was also using smart technology to gather data on parking use and foot traffic, which would inform future decisions.
There were calls from the Nelson council table for retail workers to respect the free parking and to not abuse it.
Councillor Kate Fulton asked Madigan whether the council should be looking to provide free parking for eight hours for those that worked.
Madigan said this was a separate issue, probably best dealt with in the parking strategy the council was developing.
Councillor Luke Acland asked for more specific information about the cost to the council with implementing the free parking.
"We won't quite know what the revenue stream will be as there is some uncertainly in this," said mayor Rachel Reese.
Hadley said up to $285,000 revenue could be lost, but not all parking profits would disappear with possibly 10 per cent still being gained.
Under the new system different colour chalk would be used to mark cars and parking officers would still issue tickets to those staying over time limits with stickers saying "don't pay I'm free" possibly being put on pay machines.
Hadley defended parking staff, calling attacks on them disrespectful as they worked hard and achieved good results for the council.
The council will also look at increasing its advertising on the city buses, but this will take some time to sort out.
Councillor Pete Rainey asked if the council could restrict the advertising on the buses as retailers said it was insult to injury to see the service, funded by parking revenue, advertising Richmond as a place to shop.
Hadley said this would need to be sorted out contractually with SBL, which ran the Nbus service.
- The Nelson Mail
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